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Tribe and Farmers Settle Dispute over Tidegates in Washington State

Victory: Skagit farmers and Swinomish Tribe work together to protect salmon
December 9, 2008
Swinomish Reservation, Fidalgo Island —

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and Skagit County Diking District No. 22 today filed a formal settlement agreement that ends the litigation over the district's drainage practices in the Skagit delta. A federal judge in September found that the district violated the federal Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act when it replaced several tidegates that blocked juvenile chinook salmon from accessing important rearing habitat. Rather than asking the court to impose federal penalties on the district, the Swinomish Tribe asked for an opportunity to negotiate a settlement.


Under the terms of the settlement, the tribe and the district will become partners in advocating for a major restoration project to be undertaken on publicly owned land in the Skagit delta. The project potentially will restore almost 200 acres of land to tidally-influenced estuary habitat, which biologists consider to be critically important to restoring chinook salmon in Puget Sound and which is identified in numerous plans for recovering Puget Sound salmon. In exchange for the District's advocacy for this project, the tribe will waive its right to financial penalties, court-ordered restoration, and other remedies.


"This is an important milestone both for salmon restoration and for agriculture in the Skagit delta," said Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish Tribal Chairman. "By focusing on restoration opportunities rather than penalties, the parties can promote salmon recovery while supporting our agricultural industry. It's a win-win."


"This settlement demonstrates that we can take important steps to encourage the return of our salmon runs while protecting Skagit valley agriculture," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice who negotiated the settlement for the tribe. "A restoration project of this size will go a long ways towards putting Puget Sound chinook on the road to recovery."


The public land involved in the settlement is owned by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and managed as Snow Geese habitat. WDFW has already applied for funding to study salmon restoration options on this land.


The Swinomish Tribe and Diking District have been at loggerheads for many years over salmon habitat. "We hope this settlement heralds a new era of cooperation between our agricultural neighbors and the Swinomish Tribe," continued Cladoosby. "There is room in the Skagit for both healthy, fishable salmon runs and healthy, sustainable farms, and this settlement supports both."


The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is a federally recognized Indian Tribe with approximately 800 members. Swinomish is a signatory to the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott and is the legal successor in interest to the Samish, Kikialus, Lower Skagit and Swinomish aboriginal bands. Its 10,000 acre reservation is located 65 miles North of Seattle, Washington on Fidalgo Island and includes approximately 3000 acres of tidelands. 

Contacts

Marty Loesch, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, (360) 840-9160
Jan Hasselman, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 25

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